Keepin' it real.

February 20,2020

Whilst at a client’s office yesterday, her colleague said to me: “I’m not actually scared of the coronavirus, I’m scared of the fear of the virus”. It got me thinking about some of the less rational behaviours presented, and decisions made by otherwise educated people of late. 

In his excellent book ‘The Wisdom of Crowds’ (deserves a refresh in the age of social media dependence), James Surowiecki talks about the danger of a reliance on ‘dirty data’, masquerading as societal norms or ‘generally accepted opinion.’ He says: “Independence is important to intelligent decision making for two reasons. First, it keeps the mistakes that people make from becoming correlated. One of the quickest ways to make people’s judgments systematically biased is to make them dependent of each other for information. Second, independent individuals are more likely to have new information rather than the same old data everyone is already familiar with. Independence doesn’t imply rationality or impartiality, though. You can be biased and irrational, but as long as you’re independent, you won’t make the group any dumber.”

Panic buying, massaging facts to fit political or cultural narratives, racist fear-mongering: we’ve seen the ugly side of humanity yet again these past few weeks. By contrast, allowing space for undisputed facts, diverse, constructive thought, listening not shouting, this brings the conversation to a more objective, progressive place, and with it, informed choice. As internet entrepreneur and researcher Neil Seeman said: “… with the proliferation of Facebook and Twitter and ‘social filtering’; we increasingly do not reach any wisdom of any independently-minded crowds. We speak to our friends.” Whilst obviously it is nice to speak to our friends :)  it is true that we feel comfortable when surrounded by information that confirms our world-view and value-set, and we are often content to seek no further.

So in the current climate, with emotion running high, and facts at a premium, it seems reasonable for us each to ask ourselves these two questions:

Do my actions add fact or fear?"

"What can I do today to keep independent, and contribute to collective wisdom?"

Now go do it.

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